Ananthan worshipped his father. “Sangeedham’naa anandan appa’va minja mudiyuma?! Epperpatta vidwan avar!” - he often heard his neighbor Kanakavalli mami tell her son. Ananthan’s father fondly called his son “Aanandha” and would teasingly lapse into “Aanandha anandhamdha dhanamdha” while calling him to come and play for him. It was strange to see a light sense of humor in the interactions with his son considering he was otherwise a straight faced and serious musician. Ananthan was initiated into playing the Mridangam at the age of four by his guru, the legendary Mudumbai Krishnamachari, his beloved father. Both his mother and father saw natural talent and a great sense of rhythm in the child and got him started at an early age. His father was a musical genius and could play both Mridangam and Veena even though he was famous as a vocalist.
Ananthan was passionate about his music. His mother often recalled how as a child he would mumble “kidathaka tham” in his sleep. He would keep beat with his feet even when he was half asleep if he heard a song playing on the radio. Every morning at 5.00 am when his father would do his “Sadakam”, Ananthan would wake up on his own and keenly observe and learn. He did not know mathematics at that young age but he intuitively grasped the complex patterns of swarams that his father would spontaneously break into while singing. His father was “Swara Chakravarthi” after all. When his father rendered the kalpanaswara, Ananthan would sit mesmerized in front of him. His father’s genius came through in not just the complexity of the patterns but in the grace and flow the swaras carried along. The accompanying artist had to be mature and confident in his skills to keep up with his father during such renditions. Ananthan attained fame as a child artist and soon enough accompanied many stalwarts at various concerts. Yet, he could not get himself to accompany his father on stage. He had refused to even when he was 10 years old. He did not measure up to his own expectations as the son of this music genius. Yet the challenge gnawed at him for years. He went on to become a successful engineer while keeping up with his music but he was not a single-minded musician like his father. His life felt incomplete for not having faced his own fears.
Four years after Ananthan’s marriage, his wife Lakshmi announced to him that she was pregnant. Everyone in the family was elated by the news. It was a turning point for him. It was then that he decided that he would in fact accompany his father on stage at the opening concert for the December season. He could not explain what prompted him to take that decision himself. He had wanted to do it all along but could not muster the courage to do so. The majestic image of his father, his resounding voice, the reverent audience, the rapt attention when he worked through complex patterns while singing swarams all left him weak with admiration in front of a giant. He could not understand his own reservation or fear. Yet it was perceptible in his mind. The fear of missing a beat…of letting down his father. He could not bear the thought. Yet he decided the time had come – he had to put himself through the ultimate test of his talent and confidence.
The crowds thronged through the gates at the opening concert. Women in dazzling silks fresh jasmines and fine jewellery, middle aged men in kurtas and thathas in crisp white jarigai veshti and shirt. Mothers held their children by hand and brought them in eager to have them listen to the legendary musician about to perform. There was an added sizzle to this year’s concert since father and son were on stage together for the firs time. The sabha chairman reveled in the moment and gave a lengthy speech on music and introduced the artists. The curtains were drawn. His father sat center stage chest forward, head held high, his thiruman bold on his forehead, his hair in a close crop and his angavastram adding a tinge of color to the white of his veshti and shirt. His father was a giant whose talent spoke for him but the man himself was most unassuming and the accolades barely touched him. In his father’s mind, music was his god and he served god through his industry and dedication to music. His face was radiant with the peace that comes with such dedication and there were no signs of any anxiety in him. The accompanying violinist who had played many concerts with his father looked at Ananthan kindly as if to assure him that all was going to be well. His father started off the concert with the Ata thala varnam “Viriboni”. Ananthan played along with his father. He felt at that moment that he was born all over again. He was there in front of the world in silent admiration of the colossus that was his father and yet at that moment performing with him as an artiste worthy of being there. At that moment he knew without a doubt that he would match his father’s vidwat and keep pace with him. He felt a surge of pride and elation and bowed to the creator in his mind and thanked him for the gift of music. It was at that moment that he felt he had become an adult. Worthy of becoming a father himself. They had finished the varnam to loud applause from the excited crowd. He thought to himself “Yentharo Mahanu Bhavulu Anthariki Vandhanamu (I salute all the Mahanubhava or noble souls)”.